13 strange and spooky Norfolk stories
PUBLISHED: 12:51 16 October 2019 | UPDATED: 12:51 16 October 2019
Archant, Norfolk 2017
Prepare to take a step into the dark side of the county with these 13 tales from the Weird Norfolk team
The bewitching month of Halloween is upon us, a time when we relish the strange and macabre and delight in tales that send a chill down the spine. Such tales are the mainstay of Weird Norfolk, the team which brings tales of the unexpected to the Eastern Daily Press every week. As long shadows begin to fall and the darker half of the year beds in for winter, Stacia Briggs and Siofra Connor choose a lucky 13 of their favourite Weird Norfolk stories, from beasts to witches, shrieking pits to henges, mystery mists to bleeding stones, there are plenty of stories to tell on dark nights.
1. The Witch of East Somerton
Off the beaten track and hidden amongst a thicket of trees are the atmospheric ruins of St Mary's Church. Built in the 15th century, only the tower and walls of the nave remain, along with a tantalising piece of folklore which has fascinated visitors for centuries. It is said that a witch with a wooden leg was caught and buried alive in the church's foundations by angry villagers. From her leg, an oak tree grew and ruined the church and it still stands as a reminder of her wrath. Supposedly walking around the oak tree three times will release her spirit.
2. Arminghall Henge
It's a ripple in a field which hides a stupendous secret - here, between two ugly electricity pylons on the fringes of Norwich there once stood an incredible treasure: Norfolk's answer to Stonehenge. Marked by two huge electricity pylons and overlooked by a looming substation, itself built over a round barrow, Arminghall Henge receives none of the glory that its Wiltshire cousin enjoys and far less than Seahenge, the Bronze Age timber circle discovered on the coast at Holme in the 1990s. Once a gateway to a winter wonderland, it used to put on a blazing celestial show as the winter solstice sun set.
3. Fulmodeston church and the mystery mist
The atmospheric remains of St Mary at Fulmodeston are all that is left of the church that once served the village- the building was abandoned in the 1880s. Camouflaged by ivy, the church is easy to overlook: but in August 2005, a group of walkers noticed the church and decided to take a closer look: however, someone - or something - wasn't in the mood for welcoming visitors. The group picked their way through the brambles and began to explore the ruins, only to be met by a strange white mist and an overpowering smell of sulphur. As they beat a hasty exit, voices were heard and a spectral figure was seen walking on a floor that had long since crumbled away.
4. Alymerton Shrieking Pits
Three miles from Cromer, five shallow pits are visible in Aylmerton in the wooded slopes close to the Gresham Cross, known locally as the Shrieking Pits. Folklore tells of a ghostly figure wearing white that haunts the pits, weeping and wailing as she walks between each pit, endlessly searching the depressions in the ground, looking for her baby. The child was killed by her husband who was convinced the baby wasn't his and, after he had buried the infant in the pit west of Aylmerton church, he went back and killed his wife. Nearby pits at Northrepps bear the same name, but a different ghost.
5. Baconsthorpe Castle ghost
Hidden from the Holt Road are the relics of a prosperous past, the skeleton of a once-magnificent manor house once home to the Heydon family, a hidden gem now owned by English Heritage and boasting a very curious caretaker: a spectral sentry. Visitors to the castle ruins often wander through the shattered remains to the moat at which point for some, the silence is broken by the unmistakeable sound of stones breaking the still waters, as if thrown from some height. Confused by the ripples, visitors turn to see where the stones hail from, only to catch sight of a ghostly sentry or medieval soldier standing on the castle walls, throwing stones as if to pass the time.
6. The bleeding stone of Lyng
A haunted wood, a strange stone that bleeds and a host of legends that link it to a martyred saint, a ruined nunnery and ritual sacrifices. The glacial erratic, which looks like a giant toad, is said to bleed if pricked with a pin on certain nights. Another legend says that there is treasure hidden under the stone while it is said that the sound of the drowned bell of a deserted convent nearby can be heard ringing at night from under the water where it was thrown.
7. The Sheringham Mermaid
The 15th century pews in the 900-year-old church of All Saints in Upper Sheringham tell the fishy tale of an unusual visitor to the village who has left her mark for all to see. There, on the bench end of the pew closest to the north door is a mermaid, a formidable-looking siren of the sea immortalised in wood. Legend has it that the mermaid was drawn to the church from more than a mile away by the sound of heavenly singing and, despite the encumbrance of a tail, dragged herself laboriously from beach to churchyard. And stayed forever.
8. The Beast of the A1075
Sometimes the spectacular is hidden in the mundane: on a stretch of road between Thetford to Wretham, a strange creature has been spotted by numerous witnesses, something resembling the descriptions of Bigfoot. Could there be a cryptid creature foraging in the forest, a yeti-like beast that generally camouflages itself in deep thickets and is only disturbed once in a blue moon?
9. The ruined church of Tunstall, the Devil and the Bells
With a church ravaged by fire, an unholy row is said to have broken out between the parson and the churchwardens about who should claim the unscathed - and valuable - bells. While the argument raged, the Devil saw his chance to settle the dispute and stepped into the smoking timbers and carried the bells away. In a bid to make a swift getaway, he scrabbled through the earth and towards his underworld lair with his stolen loot, creating a boggy pool of water known as Hell Hole (which still ominously bubbles in the summer) and where a muffled peal of bells can still be heard on dark, quiet nights.
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10. The Sheringham Yows
In Sheringham, there is a special name for the severe squalls which sometimes besiege the coast in this corner of Norfolk; the sudden strong winds which cause brief but violent storms are known as Yow Yows - and those Yow Yows are said to be linked to the captain of an old, drowned ship and the fishermen that turned their backs on his cries for help. Cries heard at sea off the coast at Sheringham should not be ignored and are a sign to return to land before the Yow Yows strike.
11. The ghost of Cromer Church
Long before the church was the commanding building it is today, the churchyard was used by townspeople as common land and the building itself was in ruins. A tale told in 1889 by author Walter Rye recalled these days and a story told to him by a man who had seen a child-like figure dressed in white rising from the ground within an arms-length of him. Horrifyingly, a gash then appeared across its throat and the blood poured over the white dress before it vanished, with a lingering sigh.
12. The Gildencroft Bogey
In the 1880s, on the outskirts of Norwich where knights once practised their jousting, a strange creature was spotted lurking in the shadows. A witness described the beast: "…big and hairy, eyes glowing in the dark, big as tea-saucers, big sharp teeth and its breath…it was most noxious." And people in their 70s and 80s still remember the threat of the bogeyman if they didn't behave.
13. The phantom rabbit of Thetford Warren Lodge
An ominous tale harks back to the building's warrening history: it is said that a large - huge, even - ghostly white rabbit with flaming red eyes guards the doorway to the lodge and is an omen of death to anyone who lays eyes on it. A further two strange stories appear to be rooted in the nearby leper hospital - a figure with a strange, two-dimensional face can be seen gibbering horribly and terrifying witnesses as it wanders the area close to the lodge and an eerie face has been reported looking out from the first floor window of the building, even though it no longer has any floors. In 2011, a man was seen peering from a second-floor window wearing blue and white clothing and boasting gaping black holes where his eyes and mouth should have been.
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